SECRETS OF THE SOWIE MOUNTAINS
Part 2-The Builders
April 7, 2004
We first wrote about the mysterious underground facilities in the Sowie Mountains in The Warsaw Voice (see below), attempting to discover what the gigantic structures were meant for. Now it's time to trace the fate of the people who built them.
There were three main regions in the Third Reich where underground facilities were located: the Tyrol in Austria and the neighboring Bavaria in Germany, central Germany (including the Hartz Mountains, around the town of Nordhausen), and Lower Silesia (the Sudetes with the Sowie Mountains). The construction of all these structures is linked to war crimes and crimes against humanity, as concentration camp prisoners, forced laborers and POWs were forced into slave labor there and even murdered.
The construction of underground facilities in the Sowie Mountains most probably began in the fall of 1943. There were two stages to the work. The first lasted from fall 1943 to mid-April 1944. At this time, the work was done by forced laborers (chiefly Poles and "Ostarbeiters"-Soviet citizens) and POWs (Italians and Russians), and the work was supervised by a specially formed joint-stock company called Schlesische Industriegemeinschaft AG (Silesian Industrial Company).
The Krupp machinery factory of Essen was moved to Głuszyca in the Sowie Mountains-it probably dealt with the final machining of parts for the Me-262 jet fighter plane. The plant was installed in the production halls of the closed-down textile factory in Głuszyca (see photo below). It seems this was to be a temporary location, until the underground rooms for the Krupp factory were finished in the massif near the factory.
The construction of one or more facilities (we still don't know much about this today) in Głuszyca was probably meant to cover up the fact that new underground Wehrmacht headquarters (FHQ) were being built as well.
Management of the two projects was in the hands of the Silesian Industrial Company, but its lack of experience in supervising this kind of work (it was the company's first and last project) became obvious rather quickly. The camps were set up hastily, some of the forced laborers initially lived in tents or dugouts. Very poor sanitary conditions and meager nutrition caused a typhoid epidemic, and escapes were frequent. All this caused delays that in the spring of 1944 made the authorities of the Third Reich decide that the entire work would be taken over by the Todt Organization (OT), which specialized in this kind of activity.
At the Führer's orders
The decision to take management of the Wehrmacht headquarters construction away from the company was made on April 9, 1944. According to the records, Adolf Hitler expressed his displeasure at the slow pace of the work on underground facilities-including those in the Sowie Mountains, which suggests their great importance-and ordered that the OT take over.
The Führer's orders were followed very quickly. By May 1944 all the work on the headquarters in the Sowie Mountains had been taken over by the OT, and prisoners of the nearby concentration camp of Gross-Rosen (Jews-mainly Hungarian, Greek and Polish) were added to the forced laborers and POWs.
From mid-April 1944 to the end of the war in May 1945 was the second stage of the work, supervised by the OT. Without documentation it's hard to say what was completed and to what extent at that time-especially since there is the possibility that also other underground facilities were being built in the Sowie Mountains. For example, according to unconfirmed rumors, before 1943 Germany and its ally Italy were preparing to build a large underground depot for storing aviation equipment or maybe missiles.
It's an ironic that one of the partners-Italy-withdrew from the war soon afterwards. Now Italian POWs were sent to the region where the Italians had wanted to build underground arms facilities together with the Germans. They shared the fate of the Jews and Slavs, forced to do slave labor and becoming the victims of the Nazi extermination machine.
After the war the survivors returned home. In the 1950s and '60s the remains of most of the Italian POWs who had died and been buried in a mass grave in Walim, were moved to a cemetery for Italian soldiers in Warsaw. The final resting place of many Italian POWs is unknown to this day.
During the second stage, to speed up the work which was much delayed, the decision was made on July 19, 1944 to move to the Sowie Mountains part of the construction firms that were working on Hitler's still unfinished Wolfsschanze quarters in East Prussia. In summer or maybe autumn of 1944, upon orders from the Wehrmacht chief of operation Gen. Alfred Jodl, construction of all aboveground facilities was meant to halt, while work was to continue underground so as to ensure a place where the different Wehrmacht formations could work and live. This could mean that there are much larger underground structures in the Sowie Mountains than we know of today.
More questions than answers
The complexes we know of that were built as part of the Riese (Giant) project-Książ, Włodarz, Jawornik/Chałupy/Jugowice Górne, Soboń, Osówka, Ostra/Rzeczka, Gontowa/Sokolec-were supposed to be connected by underground passages. Were these actually accomplished?
Changes on the eastern front went much faster than the Germans had expected. In January 1945 the Red Army set off like a juggernaut, destroying the last German units as it marched towards Berlin, bypassing the Sudete Mountains, including the Sowie Mountains.
| Current view: Książ Castle and the blocked-up entrance to a tunnel|
The time from mid-January to May 1945 in the history of the Sowie Mountains is shrouded in mystery. What happened there that has prevented us from finding the underground facilities? What-if anything-was hidden there? Was it only construction equipment and building materials, as some people suggest, or something valuable, or even something very dangerous, as others claim? Why was an SS unit stationed in the small town of Walim in the very heart of the Sowie Mountains, and what was the task of the Sonderkommando SS that came to the area in late April 1945? Finally, what happened to the slave laborers who were not evacuated and had been working in the tunnels? Could it be that Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler's order, issued in early 1945, commanding that prisoners be eliminated inside the underground facilities by the entrances being blown up, was carried out?
It's not certain that we will ever learn the answers.
Story and photos by Piotr Lewandowski
After the publication of the first article on the mysterious underground structures in the Sowie Mountains, the writer received many letters from all over the world. People expressing an interest in the topic were from countries that included the United States, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Great Britain. Some of them declared their willingness to take part in a research expedition, or at least to visit the accessible parts of the underground structures. Some readers had seen similar facilities in their own countries.
The Sowie Mountains with their highest peak, Wielka Sowa (1,015 m above sea level), are an imposing massif stretching 25 km westwards from the Bystrzyca River valley to Srebrna Pass, which separates them from the Bardzkie Mountains. Made up of gneiss rock whose age is estimated at approx. 3 billion years, they are one of the oldest mountain ranges in Poland. They are in the form of a compact block with relatively even peaks and steep slopes. The upper regions of these mountains are overgrown by thick spruce forests and some beech.
The author is a student of the Law and Administration Department of Warsaw University, and for several years has been carrying out studies aimed at explaining the mystery of underground military facilities in Lower Silesia. He is currently preparing his latest expedition to the region.
The Warsaw Voice is the media patron of this project.
For more information, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org